Where is it not Safe to Travel to in EgyptThe best way to stay safe is to learn where shouldn’t you go in Egypt. Currently, the State Department recommends you avoid two areas at all times. The Western Desert and the Eastern Border with Israel. Since 2018, the Egyptian military has been carrying out a counter-terrorism campaign called Operation Sinai 2018. It’s best to avoid this area entirely. You can guess by the name that this campaign extends to the Sinai Peninsula. The towns of Sharm El-Sheikh and Dahab are considered safe, but you should only travel there by air. The rest of the Sinai Peninsula is unsafe, and you should not go there. The State Department also warns that you should avoid Egyptian border areas due to military zones, but what does that mean? The Camp David accords split the Sinai Peninsula into four zones. In the west, the Egyptian army maintains one mechanized infantry division with up to 22,00 soldiers. In the east, 4,000 Egyptian soldiers patrol one side of the border while 4,000 Israelis patrol the other. The State Department advisory is to stay in the middle third, where only international peacekeepers are operating. Don’t worry; this includes most of the Nile River Valley and the majority of ancient Egypt.
Where is it Safe to Travel to in Egypt?There’s a saying in skiing. If you focus on the trees, you’re going to hit the trees. Focus on where you’re trying to go, and you’ll be just fine. Almost all of the Egyptian tourist sites are in the Nile River Valley. Places you can safely go to in Egypt include:
- Aswan including the dam and Temple of Philae
- Luxor and the Valley of the Kings
- Cairo including the Pyramids of Giza and Cairo city tours
- Alexandria on the Mediterranean Coast
- Abu Simbel (but be careful going south of there towards Sudan)
- Sharm El-Sheikh and Dahab along the Red Sea (but you will want to fly into Sharm El-Sheikh and limit travel only to Dahab from there)
Is it Safe to Visit Egypt Right Now?Millions of visitors every year go to Egypt with no incident. You want to make sure you exercise caution and travel safely. How do you stay safe in Egypt? Here are our top safety tips for traveling to Egypt to help you out:
- Follow the Department of State on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and developments. Make it a habit to check in the morning before you leave the hotel.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP allows you to receive Alerts and make it easier for the U.S. to locate you in an emergency.
- Review the Crime and Safety Report for Egypt when you are planning your trip, so you base your safety decisions on the most accurate facts available.
- Vaccinations are not required, but it’s a good idea to take bug repellent with you. Even though you’re in a desert, you’ll be near the Nile River most places you travel to.
- ‘Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners’ is a ubiquitous warning issued by the State Department. Almost everywhere you’re going to be is frequented by Westerners. Be aware of your surroundings and signs of potential danger. These are the same precautions you would take going to New York City or tips you would follow as a solo traveler in general.
- Look out for pickpockets. Get a cross-body purse, money belt, and other devices to keep your stuff safe.
- Use the in-room safe for valuables. A great way to avoid theft is to not take your valuables, including your passport, out with you. Leave it in the safe if one is available.
- Avoid demonstrations. Don’t try to be the next social media sensation breaking world news. If there’s an angry mob heading one way, put your cell phone back in your pocket and walk the opposite direction.
- Consider taking a guided tour. Egyptian Tour companies make their living taking customers safely around the country. They have first-hand knowledge developed from years of experience. Plus, it is their vested interest to have you come back safe from your Egypt trip to tell your friends to inspire them to visit.
- Have a contingency plan for emergency situations. You can review the U.S. State Department’s Traveler’s Checklist to help make your contingency plan.
- Obtaining comprehensive travel insurance that includes medical evacuation should be one of the first items on that checklist. Seriously, this is a State Department warning and not just a funnel to our affiliate links.
- Don’t drink the water. Is the water safe to drink in Egypt? No, use bottled water or a water purifier at all times. Even brush your teeth with bottled water.
- Bring plenty of hand sanitizer and use it often.
- Bring medication from home, including Cipro or your antibiotic of choice for travelers diarrhea. Make sure you keep your doctor’s prescription so you can show it when you clear customs.
- Bring small change for tipping (everybody expects a tip)
- Make sure you have international data or a sim card. It’s a good idea in general and critical if you’re lost or separated.in
- Know how to prepare for the desert heat
- Follow Egyptian food safety
- Take special precautions traveling as a woman
- Understand Egyptian cultural differences
- Know some common Arabic phrases
- Know how to get in touch with the Embassy
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How do you Stay Safe in the Desert Heat of Egypt?Egypt is in the middle of the Sahara Desert and almost on the equator. To say it gets hot there is an understatement. Here are a few Egyptian safety tips to help you stay safe in the desert:
- Drink plenty of water. You’ll be drinking almost a gallon per day. Also, make sure you have drinking water with you at all times.
- Bring sunscreen and wear it. Make sure you cover all of your skin with either cloth or lotion. It’s a good idea to get waterproof sunscreen too because you’ll be sweating.
- Bring high spf chapstick. The last thing you want is to sunburn your lips.
- Wear sunglasses, particularly polarizing sunglasses if you’re on a Nile River Cruise (these will also come in hand when warding off vendors, more on that later)
- Get some anti-chafe cream. You’ll find this at any running store or bike shop. You’ll be walking and sweating. Not a good combination for chafing.
- Dress in layers. It gets cold at night very quickly in the desert so bring a light cover-up.
- Wear lightweight, moisture-wicking clothes. Think technical hiking clothing, you’re going to be sweating a lot.
- Wear comfortable shoes that breath. You will be hiking everywhere so keep your feet happy.
Is the Food Safe to Eat in Egypt?Generally, the food is safe in Egypt, but the sanitary conditions are not always what you would hope for. Look for freshly cooked food or freshly peeled fruit ideally. Make sure wash your hands with soap or at least use hand sanitizer before eating. That being said, there are Egyptian specialties you have to try:
- Koshari – An Egyptian dish originally made with a mixture of macaroni, rice, and lentils and topped with a spiced tomato sauce and garlic vinegar. Then it’s garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Delicious.
- Shawarma – An Arabic food similar to the Greek gyro. It’s rotisserie meat sliced into warm pocket bread.
- Aish Baladi – An Egyptian bread similar to a pita but made with whole wheat flour. You’ll see vendors everywhere selling ‘Peasant bread,’ and you have to try it fresh and hot. It’s even better with a side of soft cheese.
- Taameyya – It’s an Egyptian falafel made out of fava beans and flavored with red onion, parsley, cilantro, dill, garlic, coriander, salt, and cumin.
- Turkish Coffee – Dark, bold, and beautiful. You can get drip coffee if you really want to, but why not drink what the locals drink.
- Chicken Sharkaseya – Chicken in walnut cream sauce. This dish looks a little wrong, but it’s delicious! Be careful it didn’t sit out too long because of the cream sauce.
- Hawawshi – It’s a spiced meat pie that baked with onions.
- Limoanan – Middle Eastern lemonade with a hint of mint. Super refreshing and delicious in the desert sun.
- Take a Tour – Being part of a tour is one way to stay safe, but there are ways you can help your own safety (and comfort) too.
- Dress modestly – This is not as important for big groups, but it’s respectful to the local culture.
- Wear sunglasses – They will help you to avoid eye contact. (also avoid smiling at strangers and giving the wrong message)
- Bring a scarf – You’ll love it for modesty, utility, sun protection, and warmth.
- Bring all your feminine hygiene from home – They are challenging to get in Egypt and the styles might be vastly different.
- Be careful about public displays of affection-Always good advice but particularly helpful in conservative countries.
- Bring Kleenex or TP with you – At almost every restroom you would have to bring a tip for TP if they had it at all. It’s also good for dabbing sweat.
Is Egypt Safe for Kids?Egypt is hot, dusty, and chaotic. The primary attraction is antiquities connected by a lot of walking and exotic spicy food. Just because it’s not always age-appropriate, doesn’t mean it’s not safe. For the right child, Egypt can be absolutely amazing. Who doesn’t dream of being an archaeologist when they’re young? Going to Cairo makes New York City seem like the Midwest. Traffic is everywhere. You can’t read the signs or even tell the difference between numbers and letters, and none of the streets are marked. Egyptian safety concerns for kids include:
- Keep you kids close – The number one concern is keeping your kids close. This goes hand in hand with…
- Know what to do if you’re separated – Do you have phones that work? Do you know your meeting place? Do they have directions to the hotel (written down) and money for a taxi?
- Follow desert safety rules – Following desert safety rules double for kids. They are more sensitive to the extreme weather.
- Bring some comfort food from home – Not necessarily a safety rule but a positive mental attitude goes a long way.
- Be vigilant about cleanliness – Little hands get everywhere and Egypt is full of foreign germs.
Understanding Egyptian Cultural DifferencesEgypt can be dangerous, but there is a certain amount of the negativity you hear that’s sensationalist press or cultural misunderstanding. On February 27, 2019, eTurbo News blazed the headline “Terror in Cairo” describing a tragic train accident. In the hours and days that followed, the true story came out. The train wreck wasn’t a terrorist attack at all but a brawl between two conductors. Still, that headline ran and circled the globe. Make sure you don’t let fake news keep you from the vacation of a lifetime. The U.S. State Department keeps an up to date and accurate list of vital travel news. There are also Egyptian customs that are off-putting to like pushy shop vendors and the need to tip everywhere. Understand that this is part of the tourist industry that developed over the years. Here are a few cultural difference to look out for:
- If you are offered a “gift,” don’t accept it unless you’re willing to pay for it.
- Bring pens, stickers, and anything with English writing on it for gifts for the kids, and don’t be surprised if adults are equally excited by these trinkets.
- Don’t hand your camera or phone to anybody outside of your group. You’ll have to tip to get it back if it comes back at all.
- Be careful of people photobombing your shots in traditional clothing and then asking for tips.
- If somebody opens a door, carries your bag, or assists you in any way, expect to offer a tip.
- Expect to barter for everything.
- Don’t be surprised to see trash discarded in the street or river.
- Be aware of stray animals (particularly cats). They are everywhere and probably not clean.
- Egyptians are generally more comfortable with less personal space than most Westerners.
- Traffic is just crazy, especially in Cairo.
- Everybody stays up late into the night because it’s so hot.
- There is a common camel ride scam where it’s cheap to free to get on and expensive to get off.
- Money changing scams are common. Egyptian currency has bills in the value of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pounds. Many tourists don’t know there are banknotes of 25 and 50 piastres (a piastre is 1/100 of a pound). It is easy to confuse a 50-pound note (worth about $10) with a 50 piastre note (worth about 10 cents).
- Do your money changing in banks, which are often in hotel lobbies.
Helpful Arabic Travel Phrases To KnowWhenever you visit a country, it’s helpful to know a few basic phrases. Not only is it part of the cultural experience, it makes you a better guest. Friendship and hospitality go a long way to keeping you safe in a foreign land. Besides knowing the basic Arabic numbers, you should familiarize yourself with a little bit of the language. Start with this handy list of Arabic phrases:
- naäam – Yes.
- laa – No.
- min faDlik – Please.
- shukran – Thank you.
- äafwan – You’re welcome.
- aläafw – Excuse me.
- arjuu almaädhira – I am sorry.
- sabaaH alkhayr – Good morning.
- masaa’ alkhayr – Good evening.
- tuSbiH äalaa khayr – Good night.
How do you get Around Safely in Egypt?You can legally rent a car in Egypt, but the traffic is a nightmare and navigation even worse. Taxis and Ubers work great, but make sure the identification matches. Also, make sure the driver uses the app/meter, and you fully negotiate the rate. Ask questions like are you paying in Egyptian pounds vs. U.S. dollars and is the ride per person or in total? Public Transportation isn’t bad, especially the trains or large buses. Individuals run microbuses, and the quality and reliability vary significantly as a result. If you don’t want to worry about domestic transportation, look for a tour that picks you up and drops you off at the Cairo Airport. Innovative Travel had a private van and cold water waiting for me at the airport.
How do I Contact the U.S. EmbassyFor emergencies during and after business hours, including on weekends and holidays, U.S. citizens can contact the American Citizens Services (ACS) Unit via the Embassy switchboard at 02-2797-3300. Otherwise, use an online appointment system for routine consular services Sunday through Wednesday, except for official holidays (U.S. and Egyptian) or send email to the ACS Unit at ConsularCairoACS@state.gov. The U.S. Embassy Cairo is located at:
Consular Section 5 Tawfik Diab Street Garden City, Cairo Egypt
Do I Need a Visa to Enter Egypt?You will need a tourist visa to enter Egypt from America, but it’s available at the airport. Innovative Travel had a representative meet me at customs and help me through as part of their signature service. Your passport needs to have at least six months of validity and one blank page. Also, make sure you’re not bringing more than $10,000 in or out of Egypt.
Should you Take an Egyptian Tour for Safety?I chose to take an Egyptian tour with Innovative Travel because they know the country inside and out, especially the founders Robyn Galloway and Elhamy Elzayat. They also arranged all the logistics to form an integrated and seamless experience in one of the most incredible countries on Earth. Robyn is the Managing Director for Innovative Travel International and has been organizing trips to Egypt for over 30 years. They set up our Nile River Cruise, Abu Simbel tour, and Cairo adventure as one seamless trip. Elhamy was born in Cairo, and he was the first man to establish tourism between Egypt and Israel. In 1999, he became Honorary Consul for New Zealand in Egypt and, seven years later, he became an Honorary Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit. After the January 2011 uprisings, Elhamy was appointed one of fifty Egyptians to rewrite to the constitution. Today, he is the Cairo Based Manager for Innovative Travel International. Taking a boutique tour went beyond safety. Robyn and Elhamy used their expertise to craft an authentic Egyptian experience. We went beyond the tourist tropes to explore towns, meet with locals, and partake in traditional customs like smoking shisha and exploring the neighborhood markets. They hand-selected top tier guides, who introduced us to not only the history of Egypt but the people who live there today. If you’re worried about cookie-cutter homogenized group trips, don’t be. There are boutique service providers who will introduce you to authentic Egypt while managing your safety and comfort at the same time.
Parting Thoughts on Egyptian SafetyThe revolution of 2011 put a damper on Egyptian tourism. Before that event, 12-million visitors came every year. Afterward, it dropped by 90% to under 1 million. As the country stabilized, the people returned to see the birthplace of civilization. Now, nearly 8 million people come every year, but that still means fear is keeping 4 million people out. Don’t be afraid to go to Egypt. I am not a museum person by any means, but I loved watching the stories I heard from childhood come to life. Nothing can compare to the awesome size of the Great Pyramid or the beauty of Abu Simbel. The treasure of King Tut is even more impressive in person. If you’re a confident traveler, the language, culture, and newness of the experience will invigorate you. If you just want to see the most impressive ancient civilization known to man, then consider making it easy and booking a tour. Read the current facts from the State Department about what is actually going on. Follow safety instructions and make a plan. Take reasonable precautions but don’t let unresearched fear stop you from your dream vacation.
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